A photographer and writer confront the misrepresentation of northern communities in the UK

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A collaboration between photographer Craig Easton and writer Abdul Aziz Hafiz, BANK TOP documents a community in Blackburn, the Lancashire town once dubbed “one of the most segregated” in Britain

In 2007, the BBC ran a programme investigating the ethnic and religious divide between Muslim Asian and white residents in Blackburn, Lancashire, claiming it was “one of the most segregated towns in Britain”. Over a decade later, the narrative still persists – in June 2020 by The Sunday Times, for example – and for many of the communities that live there, this stigma of ‘segregation’ has tarnished the town and its reputation.

“A lot of people in Blackburn are very angry about it. And it’s not just about the anger, it’s about understanding how divisive those messages can be,” said Craig Easton, in an interview with BJP in April 2021. “It’s really dangerous, as well as irresponsible, journalism. A big part of my work is about giving agency to the people I work with, to tell their own stories.”

Easton’s upcoming publication, BANK TOP, presents his long-term documentation of the community – a collaboration with writer, poet and social researcher Abdul Aziz Hafiz. Instigated in response to this narrative of ‘segregation’, the series is the result of an initiative set up by the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Kick Down the Barriers. The project invites artists and writers to collaborate with residents of Blackburn to create an authentic representation of their community.

Mohammed Ishaq, Bank Top, 2020 © Craig Easton.
Johnson St. Bank Top, 2020 © Craig Easton.

In the texts that accompanies Easton’s powerful black-and-white portraits, Hafiz questions and confronts the media’s representation of northern communities like Bank Top – “full of homogenising signifiers of red brick terraces, women wearing headscarves and tough ‘blokes’” – and the dangers of over-simplifying the challenges they face.

“These mythologies are toxic fairy-tales ignoring the true stories… of lifelong friendships, marriages and bonds between people of contrasting backgrounds and multiple ethnicities and identities,” writes Hafiz. “Who does this oversimplification by the media serve? Why is the diversity brought about by complicated journeys taken to arrive here ignored? Is this a story about the observer rather than those being observed?”

The resulting book is a collaborative, nuanced portrait of Blackburn – an alternative history to an imposed narrative of segregation that has haunted it. 

BANK TOP by Craig Easton is available to pre-order through GOST. Easton’s work will be exhibited at Somerset House, London from 15 April – 02 May 2022 before touring. 

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.